Determining what curriculum to use is an important decision for any church. The ramifications of what is selected have a direct impact on the scope and sequence of the Bible teaching at your church. It also has implications for students, teachers, and families. Nearly every church uses some type of curriculum, whether it’s purchased, borrowed, or self-created. In our times, the multitude of options can be a blessing and quite a challenge.
The purpose of this article is to provide tested guidelines to give assistance in making an objective decision about which curriculum to use. These procedures and standards can be applied to the choice of any type of curriculum for any age level. A God-honoring curriculum that meets the needs of your teachers, students, and parents can be the result of a careful, objective evaluation.
BEFORE YOU EVALUATE
As with so many things, how you start and what questions you ask will greatly determine your conclusions.
As you begin the process of evaluating, prayerfully consider forming an evaluation committee (EC). This might be an existing Christian education committee, a children’s ministry leadership team or a special group specifically created for the task. The committee needs to have a chairperson who will not necessarily do any evaluating, but will coordinate the work of the committee. You may also want to have an elder or someone from the governing board of your church as a member. This committee then assumes the responsibility of making curriculum choices or recommendations to those who will make the ultimate decision.
There is another common approach when determining who selects the curriculum. Oftentimes, the responsibility of deciding on a curriculum falls to one or two individuals. They may make these decisions by virtue of their job description or by being appointed. If this is the case, they should also follow the guidelines in this article.
The EC/individual(s) need to pray regularly for this important task and work to communicate with the pastor, elders, children’s ministry director, teachers, and parents.
The committee/individuals needs to establish the criteria and the rating system to be used in the evaluation. Determining the standards by which you are going to evaluate prior to beginning the task will greatly aid in being objective.
Be cautious of the common pitfall of subjectivity in your decision-making. Many churches choose a curriculum because they want to be like the big name church with the well-known pastor. Or, they want to write their own materials without evaluating what they are doing by any objective criteria.
The best way to get started developing an evaluation guide is to look at the free guide available from Great Commission Publications (www.gcp.org). You are welcome to download it. Because there is no copyright for the guide, you can adapt it as you see fit.
An important duty of the EC/individuals is to narrow the number of curriculums to be evaluated to three or four. Trying to evaluate more than this can overwhelm the committee with too much detail and take a very long time. This can be done by referrals from trusted sources, the knowledge of the committee members, or affiliation with a denomination. Be certain to get complete samples of all the age-levels of curriculum being evaluated. This means having all the teaching resources and all the student materials. Samples or internet downloads are not sufficient for this type of objective evaluation. Using incomplete samples will lead to faulty conclusions. Three to six months is usually sufficient time to complete the evaluation process.
THE EVALUATION PROCESS
When entering the evaluation process it can be helpful to invite a representative from each of the publishers under consideration to come and explain the features and benefits of their materials. At a minimum, you should have adequate support from the publisher by phone, email, or Skype.
Using your evaluation guide (EG), have an individual evaluate the three or four selected publishers for one specific age-level. The person should study at least two lessons from each publisher as if they were planning to teach them and thoroughly complete an EG for each curriculum. Plan to follow the same procedure for the other age-levels being considered. Using the EG should be mandatory so you have as much consistency as possible.
It’s helpful if the people doing the evaluation are experienced in teaching the age-level they are evaluating. Also, consider asking the present teachers or perspective teachers of each age level to evaluate the materials they would use. This helps to build a consensus among the teachers, as well as eliminates fear associated with possible change. Additionally, this shows that those making the curriculum choice want the input of those directly affected.
Set a reasonable deadline for all the evaluations to be completed.
After using the EG, create a chart showing the score for each of the curriculums evaluated by age-level. Be certain to include a place for the total scores. If several people evaluate the same materials, plan to average the scores before entering it on the chart. The chart allows for a comparison of the publishers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various age-levels.
Sample Evaluation Summary Chart
Based on an Imaginary 1-10 Scale
Publisher Tod. PS E. El. M.El. U.El. MS HS Adult Total
#1 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 64
#2 2 4 6 8 2 4 6 8 40
#3 1 3 5 7 9 1 3 5 34
A careful review of the chart will show which curriculum best fits your church. If there is not a definite conclusion, review and prioritize the evaluation results. This will require an analysis of the chart as well as an analysis of the criteria and scores from the evaluation guides. For example, most churches place a higher priority on the Bible content than the options available for review activities. Therefore, a curriculum with a lower total score could be chosen, because the individual score for the Bible content was the highest.
It is also significant to keep in mind the overall scope and sequence of your Bible teaching. Be very cautious about choosing different publishers for the different age levels. Even though one publisher may score the highest on a specific age level, you may not want to use it. If you mix and match publishers you raise the probability of not covering certain portions of the Bible or having too much repetition. Remember, you’re looking for the overall total score of a publisher to guide you in your decision. If you believe it’s wise to have more than one publisher, seek to choose one publisher for your toddler and preschool classes and another for your elementary classes.
Once a prayerful decision is made, it’s important to communicate with all those who will be affected. Plan, also, to schedule a representative from the publisher selected to come and give an orientation on the materials for the teachers.
Following the procedures outlined in this article can result in determining a curriculum that is a good fit for your church. It allows for an objective decision-making process where you can avoid many of the pitfalls of a subjective choice or the pursuit of a personal agenda. The time invested in a prayerful, diligent curriculum selection should result in a more fruitful Bible teaching ministry for your students.